I am a Professor of Pediatrics, and I am specialized in children’s cancer and leukemia. I am 72 years old (or young?) and retired since 2006, but still active in the field of childhood cancer and blood diseases. Mainly in SE Asia. How come? Well, in 1990 a father of one of my little patients with leukemia asked me to help children with that same disease in Indonesia. I had told him, that the chances of cure were there very low, maybe only 5 out of 100 children, and so 5%, survived, while in the Netherlands the cure rate was already more than 70%. Nowadays in the Western world, the cure rate is about 90%.
So he went fund raising, and I devised treatment protocols, and started a training program for doctors, nurses and technicians. Of course, problems were abundant, not the least because of our different languages, and different cultures. The language problem was more or less solved by using English, so neither of us spoke his/her native language. The cultural differences still play a role. Dutch are very direct, and Indonesians, especially Javanese Indonesians, are more circumspect. Acting in a quick and decisive way is not in their upbringing it seems. But just that is very important for severe diseases and intensive treatments. On the other hand, the fact that the relations between our two countries go back more than 400 years makes cooperation easier. We have quite a lot of shared heritance.
Whatever the reason, the project prospered, certainly also because we became good friends and trusted each other. The fundraising paid for medicines, for the education of health professionals and for some laboratory equipment. Because the situation on the general wards was not good for children on chemotherapy for leukemia, the fundraising was extended to the building of 2 clinics, especially for children with leukemia and cancer. One in Manado with 18 beds, and another clinic in Yogyakarta with 40 beds.
The clinics are named after my patient in Amsterdam, who unfortunately died after the leukemia came back. Both clinics are named after her: Estella Clinics. My young colleagues from the VU University Hospital in Amsterdam still coach and help Yogyakarta. I keep the contacts with Manado Estella Clinic. At the time that I write this, I am actually in Manado for teaching and visiting the clinic, and advising.
Every week I conduct a teleconference on all the patients. Apart from treating patients, we also do research together, because circumstances for poor patients are very different from those in rich countries like the Netherlands. This has resulted in quite a number of international publications. Six Indonesian doctors plus one from VU wrote their thesis and thus gained a PhD. Using the results of this research, we try to make the best possible treatment protocols at the most economical costs. Nowadays, about half of the children with leukemia in Indonesia can be cured, 10 times more than before. And the cure rate is still slowly climbing upwards! Education and research are still high on my agenda.
Fortunately Singapore now also helps, and I am on their External Advisory Board to help organise workshops and congresses, that results in the annual VIVA Forum, where the best experts from all over the world bring the latest developments to the delegates from 20-30 countries, mainly from SE Asia.
I am blessed that at my age, I cannot only ride tough bicycle tours, but also contribute a little bit to the care and cure of children with leukemia, cancer and other blood diseases.